Play could be key to unlocking joy of fruits, vegetables for toddlers

How to help picky toddlers eat vegetables - Sally Squires, Lean Plate Club blogger

WASHINGTON — The secret to teaching young children to eat their vegetables might be as simple as letting let them play with their food, according to food blogger Sally Squires.

New research suggests that introducing children to fruit and vegetables through picture books, puppets and even hands-on play could render better results at the table for parents struggling with a picky eater or who are hoping to develop healthy eating habits early, said Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog.

One study found that picture books can be a helpful tool for parents. Children who see drawings of a fruit or vegetable are more likely to later try that piece of produce, she said.

“They start to get more accustomed to these foods, and they get more interested, and they look at them a little bit more. And sure enough, they actually start to eat a little bit more,” Squires said.

A Dutch study of more than 100 toddlers supported that theory. The children were read a book about a rabbit that likes to eat carrots. The children were then split up into several groups. Children who were able to play the most with a rabbit puppet also ate more of the carrots provided as snacks, versus other types of snacks offered.

“Let’s make sure that when we are teaching kids about foods, we’re making it fun. We’re not just putting it in front of them and then begging or pleading or threatening or whatever it is we decide we do that day to get them to eat it,” Squires said.

Other researchers handed out fruit and vegetables allowing children to hold, smell and even play with the produce — they didn’t have to eat anything. Those children were more likely to try that produce when served the item as part of a meal, she said.

But, as parents know, getting a child to eat to try a new food isn’t the same as the child willingly eating it off their plate without any coaching. Squires said children need to try foods anywhere from eight to 15 times before they will accept it.

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